Europe Moves Towards Ensuring Independence from Russian Gas

From the eerie calm before a tempest, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine loomed large, Europe braced itself for a cascade of political and economic challenges

by Faruk Imamovic
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Europe Moves Towards Ensuring Independence from Russian Gas
© Getty Images News/Sean Gallup

From the eerie calm before a tempest, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine loomed large, Europe braced itself for a cascade of political and economic challenges. At the forefront was the energy predicament: Could Europe truly distance itself from its longstanding reliance on Russian gas without succumbing to the whims of President Vladimir Putin?

The Trade-offs of Energy Dependency

For years, the European continent has found itself in a delicate balance when it comes to energy.

The allure of cheap, imported energy has often been countered by the implicit risks that come with dependency on its sources. This has never been clearer than in its relationship with Russia. In 2021, just a year prior to Russia's invasive advance into Ukraine, a staggering 45% of all gas imported by the EU had Russian origins, reports CNN.

This reliance was even more pronounced in nations like Germany, where the figure escalated to 52%. However, in the aftermath of the geopolitical shifts that followed Russia's actions in Ukraine, a sea change was evident in Europe's energy imports.

By Q1 of 2023, according to official EU data, Russian gas imports had taken a nosedive, accounting for a mere 17.4% of the bloc’s total gas intake.

The LNG Factor: A Solution with Caveats

While the statistics paint a picture of a Europe steadily diversifying its energy sources, they mask an underlying concern.

Much of Europe's reserves are now composed of liquefied natural gas (LNG). On the surface, LNG seems a promising alternative. But its very flexibility, which allows it to be traded with ease, presents a unique challenge. "LNG is such an obvious solution that it became the priority, but because LNG is also so flexible and tradable it’s a bit harder to trace the provenance," states Milan Elkerbout, a research fellow at the Center for European Policy Studies.

This opacity in tracing LNG's origins means that, unwittingly, Europe could still be boosting Russia's coffers. "That means indirectly some of the LNG can come from Russia still so contribute to their revenues,” Elkerbout observes.

As Europe grapples with the realities of energy security, the transition from Russian gas comes with its own set of complexities. The continent's journey towards true energy autonomy is filled with nuances that require strategic navigation.

Europe Russian Ukraine
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